California Air Board Withdraws Truck Rules

Published February 1, 2010

The California Air Resources Board has temporarily withdrawn recently instituted rules restricting diesel truck emissions in the state. The board acknowledged procedural flaws in the adoption of the rules while noting improving air quality and the state’s already suffering economy also weighed against the new rules.

The Board hosted nearly seven hours of hearings on December 9, during which more than 80 speakers commented on the rules. The Board thereafter ordered the rules withdrawn subject to reconsideration in April.

Many Options Available
The Board will have many options available, including restoring the rules, delaying enforcement, adding exemptions for small trucking fleets in rural areas, and providing financial incentives for truckers to install exhaust filters or buy newer rigs.

While temporarily withdrawing the rules, the Board did not meet demands from some truckers to abandon the restrictions altogether or postpone them for years. Such a move might put the state in violation of key federal air quality targets, explained Board Chair Mary Nichols.

“We have to get the tons [of pollutants] out of the air somehow,” Nichols said at the hearing. She committed to maintaining the rule’s timetable for reductions.

According to the rules, by 2014 all older trucks would be required to have particulate filters. Fleet operators would also be required to phase in newer engines or equip trucks with built-in pollution controls. By 2023 all vehicles will have to have a model-year 2010 engine or equivalent.

Health Report Withdrawn
The Board also voted to throw out a controversial health impact report that had become a rallying point for opponents. Critics argued the report was biased and unscientific. The Board ordered the study redone.

The controversy over the report was the impetus for a lengthy apology delivered by Nichols during the hearing. Nichols admitted she had erred in not disclosing that the lead author of the report had lied about his academic credentials

The air board statistician, Hien Tran, claimed to hold a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis. In actuality, he had been a graduate student at the school and had not completed his doctoral degree. Nichols and several agency staff members knew about Tran’s fraud before the board originally voted to adopt the diesel truck regulations, but Nichols opted to withhold that information before the vote.

The scandal of supervisors not disclosing the author’s false credentials opened the Board to harsh criticism from truckers, industry groups, bloggers, and others, including two Board members—Fresno cardiologist John Telles and San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts.

“That … certainly went a long way to restoring faith in the process,” said Julie Sauls, spokeswoman for the Sacramento-based California Trucking Association, after the hearing, referring to the vote to redo the analysis.

Economy ‘Finally’ Considered
“As Vice Chair of the Assembly’s committee on Jobs, Economic Development, and the Economy, I’m glad to see that CARB has acted with a modicum of sanity,” said California Assemblyman Dan Logue (R-Marysville).

“They’ve finally admitted, essentially through their vote to reconsider the diesel regulations, that the economy is as important as draconian regulations. They’ve also taken some measure of accountability to reconsider the credibility of ‘scientists’ who are caught red-handed in outright lies,” Logue added.

Tom Tanton ([email protected]) is senior fellow of environment studies at the Pacific Research Institute.